Sleep Dealer
Sleep Dealer Maya Entertainment

The Seattle Times reports that farmers in the Columbia River basin are selling their rights to use public water to a private-equity firm, Crown Columbia Water Resources, that's based in Spokane and affiliated with Petrus Partners Ltd., which is based in New York City. The story, titled "Wall Street seeks a valuable resource from Washington state’s aging farmers: their water," points out that the critics of this trend will ultimately "promote speculation and consolidation of a public resource as the climate warms and the state’s population booms." Crown Columbia is not interested in farming, but in the potential value the rights will have in a world that is parched. Predictably, the Seattle Times article spends much of its space describing what is, in essence, the privatization of water from the perspective of farmers who are not doing well, who struggle to make a profit, and who are aging. These men sold their water rights because, in the short term, they were more valuable than their animals and crops.

When one considers that water rights are based (according to the government department that issues permits for water resources, the Department of Ecology) on using "a certain amount of public water for a beneficial purpose," then how in the world can these rights be transferred to bankers? How can a farmer sell them in the same way one sells shares on Wall Street? The public still owns this water, right? By all appearances, this looks like another example of rural welfare that, under Donald Trump, has only intensified.

Detroit Free Press reports that...

President Donald Trump's trade-related payments to American farmers have quietly become the mother of all bailouts.

Back when General Motors and Chrysler faced bankruptcy during the Great Recession, Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama pumped billions into a rescue of the auto industry. That bailout ultimately cost the public about $12 billion when everything was settled and loans repaid.


The big question that we in the city must ask is: How is it "beneficial" to the public that an aging and failing farmer sells the rights to use water to turn a profit? How is this not welfare?

To make matters worse, as the transference of rights from farmers to bankers accelerates, as it will, because people in rural areas are always in desperate need of money, it will transfer crucial water rights out of upstream rural areas (the heart of the state).

This point was made very clear in 2018 in what I consider the best article—"Concerns about permanent loss of usage for the Methow Valley" by Ann McCreary—on the subject thus far (certainly, it far surpasses the Seattle Times's piece in depth):

In a My Turn column that ran in the Methow Valley News on June 6, Mary McCrea warned of “one or more entities … trying to buy water rights to strip them from the land where they are now used and move them out of the valley.” Once transferred downstream, those rights are “gone forever,” said McCrea, who is chair of the Methow Watershed Foundation, a nonprofit organization that funds water projects in the Methow Valley.

For now, a few farmers can benefit from selling these rights. They can retire ("Crown’s interest in water comes as many of Washington’s farmers approach retirement age"), call it day, and enjoy the sunset of their lives. But by all appearances, the rural economy will take yet another big hit in the near future; and then the working-class country people will become even more angry with a system that, in their eyes, benefits coastal elites. They will never blame the retired ranchers or the pro-market GOP; after having shot one foot, they will shot the other by voting for a Trump.

In the best science fiction film of the previous decade, Alex Rivera's Sleep Dealer, the water in a Mexican region is totally privatized. The farmers must now pay a fee to use a resource that was once owned by all, the public. And because the value of the water is tied to banks and not to reality, it does not rise according to the demand for the actual resource but according to what speculators believe other speculators will pay for it. The poor farmers, as a consequence, must continually pay more and more. And to enforce these ever-increasing costs (which strain the limits of fairness, and therefore democracy), the water is militarized.

Sleep Dealer
Sleep Dealer Maya Entertainment

This is how the market works. This is doing business. Do not take it personally. But, in truth, the resources of rural areas are being financialized in much the same way as the housing market in the city. A stream of water (like a stream of mortgage payments) becomes a revenue stream that can be converted into a security. And as the world warms, the more valuable this stream of water becomes. The farmers in the Columbia River basin need to watch Sleep Dealer. That science fictional economy is heading in their direction.